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Restorative justice is no escape route - Justice ministry

Published:Saturday | February 7, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Jodi-Ann Gilpin, Gleaner Writer

The Ministry of Justice is warning persons not to see restorative justice as an avenue through which criminals can escape the full force of the law.

Restorative justice is a process whereby all parties with a stake in a particular offence come together to collectively deal with the aftermath of the offence. It is a different way of thinking about crime and conflict.

It focuses on holding the offender accountable in a more meaningful way. It seeks to repair the harm caused because of the offence, helps to reintegrate the offender into the community, and helps to achieve a sense of healing for both the victim and the community.

Permanent Secretary in the justice ministry Carol Palmer, who was speaking at a Gleaner Editors' Forum following the launch of Restorative Justice Week on Sunday, said that there are strict measures that must be adhered to for the process to begin.

"People might think that we are trying to be soft on criminals, but that is certainly not the case. There are principles that govern the process, and there are parameters, too, so not every case would be suitable for this kind of process as the ultimate solution," she declared at the newspaper's offices in downtown Kingston.

"The legislation, by virtue of the law, is obliged to take matters forward once there is a charge. However, there are a few cases that have been directed by the courts to restorative justice, but with the agreement of the parties, so it's not an either or method," she said.

Palmer added: "We don't want to come across as being rigid, but it has to be properly managed, and that is the aim of every session. There must be respect, and the rules are clearly outlined by the facilitators."

Donna Parchment Brown, director of the Justice Reform Implementation Unit at the ministry, also shared that the process is to ensure that persons are able to face their fears and come up with holistic solutions to problems.

"If you own the problem, you also have to own the change and the process that comes with it. Restorative justice is actually more stressful than a court process - not that the consequences are more serious - but what we find is that some persons find it hard to express regret, apology, ownership of responsibility, among other internal issues. So one has to understand that a lot goes into the process and it's not just a walkover," Parchment said.

"The process invites you to open up and affords the parties involved an opportunity to move forward. It's pretty unusual that the persons would be repeat offenders once the process is done properly," she declared.